Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Georgia
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
The following information concerning mail service to Georgia should be left with your family and friends for sending mail and packages to you in a timely and secure manner. During pre-service training, your mail should be sent to the Peace Corps’ P.O. Box in Tbilisi at the following address:
“Your Name,” PCT
P.O. Box 66
Tbilisi 2, 0102
Mail arriving for you at the P.O. Box will be delivered to the training site at least once a week. Once your permanent site has been identified, you will be responsible for informing your family and friends of your personal mailing address.
Packages from home are subject to customs inspection and may be assessed heavy taxes, depending on the items sent. You will be responsible for paying any taxes levied.
Residents and Volunteers alike in Georgia report varying success with the postal service. Some have had letters disappear, while others report mail arriving only after a lengthy delay. Few have experienced the level of reliability in mail service that one might expect in the United States. Packages tend to be a particular problem due to pilferage or theft along the way, and the Peace Corps does not recommend having items shipped to Georgia.
As part of Peace Corps Georgia's overall safety and security program, Peace Corps gives each trainee a cellular phone within a few days of arriving in the country, as well as a monthly allowance for phone time for emergency calls for health or safety and security. The phones are able to call other Peace Corps-issued phones for free. Trainees keep the phones after they become Volunteers and use them throughout their service.
Volunteers can use their personal *unlocked* smart phones in country by transferring the SIM card from their Peace Corps-issued phone. Monthly data plans are available for reasonable prices.
International telephone calls can be made in the larger cities, but it can be expensive—as much as two lari (approximately $1) a minute for a call to the United States. However, in the event of an emergency during training or your service, your family can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C. Peace Corps staff will immediately contact Peace Corps/Georgia. The emergency telephone number is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After working hours and on weekends they may call 202.638.2574 to reach the duty officer.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
E-mail and Internet access throughout Georgia, while growing in popularity, is still very limited due mainly to frequent power interruptions. Many volunteers will invest in a USB modem and pay for monthly data plans. Most Volunteers will have e-mail access at their sites. You can also gain access to the Internet in Tbilisi or in other larger towns.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers need to be very flexible about their housing expectations. Volunteers live in a variety of situations, including private rooms, shared houses, and small apartments.
For the first six months of your service, you are required to live with a Georgian host family. After the first six months, alternative housing arrangements may be considered in consultation with your program manager and the medical officer. For reasons of safety and security and for reasons of quality of life (especially during the winter months), most Volunteers opt to remain living with homestay families throughout their two years of service. In most areas of Georgia there are no guarantees of continuous electricity, running water, or phone service. Some villages and towns have only a few hours of electricity a day (or even none at all) in the winter months, and the natural gas supply is often cut off for periods of time. Without a central heating system, the inside of buildings is often colder in the winter than the outdoors. You should be prepared to tolerate cold and discomfort, especially during the work day at school. The Peace Corps staff will do its best to help Volunteers adjust and succeed in this environment. Peace Corps/Georgia provides all Volunteers with sleeping bags for the winter. These sleeping bags have a synthetic filling and are rated at 0°F for warmth.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Georgia, you will receive four types of allowances.
A living allowance is paid to cover your basic living expenses. The living allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. This allowance is disbursed on a monthly basis in the local currency, the Georgian lari (abbreviated as GEL). One GEL is equivalent to approximately 50 cents. The living allowance is meant to cover food, work-related transportation, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, reading material, stationery, occasional replacement of clothes, and toiletries. The current monthly living allowance for Georgia is 418 GEL, which includes 170 GEL per month to be paid to your host family.
A leave allowance, equivalent to $24 per month of Volunteer service, is paid monthly with the living allowance. The leave allowance is paid using the Bank of Georgia official rate of exchange. Conversion to U.S. dollars is available at any bank or exchange bureau.
A settling-in allowance of 300 GEL is also provided to newly assigned Volunteers for the purchase of items necessary to set up housekeeping at site.
A quarterly travel allowance is also provided to help defray the costs of pre-approved, program-related travel. This travel allowance is paid every three months and is deposited into your bank account along with the monthly living allowance.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Georgia with these four allowances. All Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home. The living allowance is adequate, and Volunteers should be living at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues.
Traveler’s checks or credit cards are not commonly used in Georgia, but a few banks in the larger cities will cash them. Currently, American Express and Visa/Mastercard traveler’s checks are the easiest to cash. Credit card use is discouraged as few establishments accept them and the possibility for theft is very high. Changing U.S. dollars to GELs is very easy and can be done at any official currency exchange or bank.
Food and Diet
The basic Georgian diet consists of meat, vegetables, and fruits. Vegetables are mostly limited to potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Fresh vegetables and fruits are available in the summer and, sometimes, in winter. During the long winter months, cabbage, potatoes, and meat are the mainstays. Volunteers placed in smaller villages may not have access to as wide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as those closer to district centers. However, the fruits and vegetables that are available are delicious. In addition, many host families have extensive gardens and make their own wine, cheese, honey, and more.
While meat is an important element of the Georgian diet, it is possible for vegetarians to maintain a meatless diet throughout their service. During pre-service training, you will stay with a host family. While it may seem strange to your host family that you would refuse to eat meat on a daily basis, in time they will respect that decision and accommodate your needs accordingly. During the winter, fresh produce is not as readily available as it is in the spring and summer. For this reason, you may find the need to prepare preserves during the summer and fall months. Cabbage, carrots, and potatoes are available throughout winter, but other produce must be preserved ahead of time or purchased in the capital city. Some prior planning will need to be done in order to ensure that a healthy alternative diet can be maintained.
Georgia has a dense transportation system. Most freight is carried by truck, but railways are also an important means of transportation. Tbilisi is connected by rail with both Sukhumi and Batumi on the Black Sea, Baku on the Caspian, as well as Yerevan in Armenia. Most people travel by bus or vans between cities, and fares are relatively cheap. Taxis are widely available but tend to be much more expensive. Georgia’s international airport is in Tbilisi.
Riding a bicycle is not a common practice in Georgia, and for safety and security reasons, Peace Corps/Georgia does not recommend that you purchase or use one. Volunteers and trainees are prohibited from owning or operating motor vehicles (i.e., automobiles, motorcycles, or three-wheeled cycles) or riding on motorcycles or in motorcycle sidecars as a passenger. Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.
Geography and Climate
The northern Caucasian mountains protect Georgia from cold air intrusions from the north, while the country is open to the constant influence of warm, moist air from the Black Sea. Western Georgia has a humid, subtropical, maritime climate, while eastern Georgia’s climate ranges from moderately humid to dry, subtropical conditions.
There also are marked elevation zones. The Kolkhida Lowland, for example, has a subtropical climate up to about 2,000 feet, with a moist, moderately warm climate lying just above. Still higher is a belt of cold, wet winters and cool summers. Above about 7,200 feet, there is an alpine climatic zone, lacking any true summer, and above 11,500 feet, snow and ice are present year-round. In eastern Georgia, farther inland, temperatures are lower than in the western portions at the same altitude.
Western Georgia has heavy precipitation throughout the year, totaling 40 to 100 inches. Winter in this region is mild and warm; in regions below about 2,000 feet, the average January temperature never falls below 32°F (0°C). Relatively warm, sunny winter weather persists in the coastal regions, where temperatures average about 41°F (5°C). Summer temperatures average about 71°F (22°C).
In eastern Georgia, rainfall decreases with distance from the sea, reaching 16 to 28 inches in the plains and foothills but increasing to double this amount in the mountains. The southeastern regions are the driest areas, and winter is the driest season. The end of spring is the rainiest season. The highest lowland temperatures occur in July (about 77°F or 25°C), while average January temperatures over most of the region range from 32° to 37°F (0° to 3°C).
Social activities vary depending on where you are located and may include taking part in festivals, parties, storytelling, and local dances. Some Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers during the weekends or make an occasional trip to the capital, although we encourage Volunteers to remain at their sites in order to accomplish the second goal of the Peace Corps: cultural exchange. Most regional capitals have cinemas or theaters, and movie videos are often available for a small fee.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. Maintaining your personal style while presenting a professional appearance according to Georgian cultural standards may be challenging. Professional dress at your site means clean and conservative. For NGO Volunteers, this means dress suits or coats and ties, dress shirts and slacks for men; and dresses, dress slacks and blouses and suits for women. For education Volunteers, this means casual dressy clothes (dresses and dress slacks for women; and slacks and button-down shirts for men). Many male Georgian teachers wear a suit coat. In general, Georgians tend to dress more formally and conservatively than Americans, and they take great pride in their appearance.
In Tbilisi, it is not uncommon to see fashionable young women wearing short skirts and tight pants. However, this mode of dress is not recommended for Volunteers. Foreign women are generally seen as less conservative in behavior, so inappropriate displays of dress (such as anything too short or revealing) will attract unwanted attention. Use common sense and be aware that you may be judged by what you are wearing. For men, earrings, braided hair or dread locks are unacceptable in the workplace and may cause physical confrontations.
Georgians, like many of their European counterparts, like to dress well. Many Georgians have very little in terms of clothing, but they take great effort to care for what they have. The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect within your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and the United States. You will receive an orientation about appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest, and you should be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. Certain behavior may jeopardize the Peace Corps’ mission in Georgia and your personal safety. It cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps and may lead to administrative separation—a decision on the part of the Peace Corps to terminate your service. Please refer to your Volunteer Handbook for more information about grounds for administrative separation.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although many Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety problems. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Georgia. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers you will encounter numerous frustrations. Due to financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and many people are hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur while you adapt to a new culture and environment.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will ever experience. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact and without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress is often seen only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To approach and overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. However, Georgians are hospitable, friendly, and warm people. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenges as well as in moments of success. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.